From its opening titles — which detonates the Clone Wars title to chisel onto it Star Wars: The Bad Batch — The Bad Batch made no pretense about expecting its viewers to be already equipped with Clone Wars lore to understand how the Disney+ series functions as a direct sequel and spin-off.
There are (read: in my opinion) two non-movie Star Wars onscreen productions recommendable for outside non-Star Wars viewers: The Mandalorian and Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2003 porto-canon Star Wars: Clone Wars. Both of these productions offer self-contained entertainment value, sometimes to the extent of an experience-over-story approach, that can be appreciated outside of investment in the Star Wars universe.
In contrast, it’s harder to recommend the Disney+ The Bad Batch series as self-contained entertainment or a gateway watch to the universe. It fits in a Lucasfilm Animation league of other CGI productions like Clone Wars (made for the movie watchers from the get-go), Rebels (its explicit connection to the wider universe came later), and Resistance (arguably mostly decluttered from esoteric references as it went on). They aren’t bereft of artistic merit, but viewer investment relies heavily on whether you’ve witnessed other Star Wars stories, cartoons and film, as well.
How can The Bad Batch examine its strengths while working out its kinks? And what can it do about its future and its announced second season? We examine those questions in our full The Bad Batch season 1 review.
The titular clone squad didn’t have the most compelling debut in The Clone Wars. The premiere “Aftermath” picks up some slack in rounding out their dynamic, but their introduction likely would have benefited with a longer premiere.
While everyone plays their part on missions, the season still struggles with fleshing them out as individuals. The spotlight is given to Hunter and Omega. Wrecker gets more to do as both a soldier, the fun guardian figure, and someone who had serious stakes with his individuality. But Tech and Echo often exist in the margins, trading insights or quips once in the while. After the finale, there are also compelling stories to be told with Crosshair-focused episodes that could help further de-haze his nebulous motives. Hopefully, season 2 would do him, Tech, and Echo more justice.
(See more on Deference below.)
Even when The Mandalorian was roping in other franchise cast they made sure to (re)introduce, not recap, their characterization to the audience to some (debatable) degree.
At least so far, The Bad Batch tries this approach as it distributes its share of familiar franchise appearances, from Cad Bane to Fennec Shand to Caleb Dume. The effect is decidedly mixed depending on who’s purposeful. Jabba’s rancor feels too fanservice-y. Clone Wars veterans like Cut Lawquane and Rex are obviously purposeful. Fennec complicates the plot. Cad Bane tiptoes the line between being a hurriedly introduced new complication and giving a fanservice-y answer to his fate. Caleb Dume’s fate in the premiere feels reductive because his own drama gasping for air.
The storyline that focuses the most on another established character, Hera Syndulla, is oddly the strongest. It involved an incisive story choice that added dimensions of the main cast and their place in the galaxy.
Clone Wars flew a long way from the much reviled renderings of its theatrically released pilot in 2008. Unambiguously, The Bad Batch illustrates computer-generated upgrades. The backdrops of jungles and clouded skies and stars are lush. Lighting and shadows cloak sequences and planetary and moon landscapes in atmosphere.
Colorism and Whitewashing
Colorism entered the conversation during the previews and premiere. The majority of Clone Force 99 are paler-skinned in comparison to the other reg clones, based on Temuera Morrison’s darker brown profile. Wrecker, the dimmest and most violent-prone of the group is the closest to Morrison’s appearance. The critique also applied to the straw-haired and lighter-skinned Omega and Caleb Dume, who was browner in complexion in his adult form in Rebels and the Kanan Marvel comics (art by Pepe Larraz).
Some may rationalize it by the fact that the clones canonically came out different from their cloning chambers. But designing most of the main characters, who are positioned as more sensible than most regs, as Caucasian-presenting is unconscious bias at play. As indicated by Gizmodo, the animation team appears to be planning tweaks, but there is no official statement from Lucasfilm itself. It remains to be seen how Lucasfilm will adjust. (See also, fans making fan art of The Bad Batch in darker complexions.)
Relationship with Regs
“Since when did you care about regs?” Crosshair sneers in the finale.
The whitewashing discussion also bleeds into the Bad Batch’s attitudes toward regs. This applies unintended undertones when someone light-skinned like Crosshair speaks of “superiority” over the darker-skinned regs.
The Republic’s breeding of clones for warfare was always ethically dodgy. Season 1 of Bad Batch sits on the bureaucratic dehumanization of clone soldiers through observing meetings between Lama Su and Nala Se. When reg clones had their spotlight in The Clone Wars “Rookies,” they proved to be charming characters that made the audience curious about their welfare during Order 66. There’s potential resonance in exploring the clones’ welfare through the eyes of the Bad Batch.
So far, the show gives us sympathy for the “special” Clone Force 66 in the Empire takeover. Fans complained this season has only scratched the surface of the regs’ welfare. The Batch don’t have great relations with regs in general since the latter often view them as pariahs. They have an amiable dynamic with Rex and have a long-term friendship with deserter Cut Lawquane, both of whom were impacted hard by the Empire. When later episodes get the Batchers interacting with dissenting clone soldiers like Howzer and Gregor, they nearly confront their apathy with anonymous regs.
The show doesn’t engage much further in their view of anonymous regs. The Batchers consciously deploy stun blasters on clone soldiers, but the decision to set blasters to stun is off-screen. That said, while fans have complained about the mistreatment with regs, this seems intentional. Omega notes how the boys don’t really interact with regs and Echo, a “reg” himself, is eager to rescue a reg. Season 2 may or may not give them a reckoning.
Deference (Also Less Hunter, Sorry)
“With the Republic, we knew where we stood. This Empire is different,” Tech notes in the premiere. Later in “Reunion,” when Omega asks him about the war, he can’t come up with a satisfactory answer. He doesn’t grasp the cost of the war he “willingly” — as willingly it can be said for clone soldiers bred and conditioned — fought.
Conditioned deference versus autonomy has been a theme echoing throughout Clone Wars, especially in the infamous Umbara arc. The Bad Batch has been dodging some questions since “Aftermath.” Sure, the Bad Batch adhere to their initial Republic-ruled structure for a time being until the Empire closed in. But was the Republic treating them well to begin with? We also observe a stormtrooper recruit remarking that he joined the Empire in hopes of getting fed and paid.
Have you also noticed that the show relies on Hunter as the mouthpiece for the squad? A theme of Clones Wars was that each clone was an unique individual with their own quirks and thoughts. It would be intuitive for a story about clones to lean on that. However, Hunter often makes decisions on their behalf. Echo voices frustration at times, but this is often after a decision is made. Note how only Hunter is present with Rex to refuse the call to join the latter’s rebel cause in “Battle Scars.”
“War-Mantle” contains one of the stronger scenes where each one in the collective actively have a voice in Hunter’s decision. If the rest of the series had this collective-opinion approach, it would be free of that shortcoming.
The Little Things Matter
By “Replacements,” you notice that Bad Batch points the camera at little things: making sure a kid has enough rations, her own space, and time to enjoy popcorn (Martell Mix). Later, there is a shot of Omega playing with a clone trooper doll. These intimate touches help tune out the existence of the cast. Having a writing team that worked on Star Wars Resistance, including head writer Jennifer Corbett, The Bad Batch picked up the “focus on the micro-moments” lessons from the Sequel Era Resistance.
For Kids Or Adults?
For a surrogate kid sidekick who initially felt out of place for a cast of adults (well, adults in the physical and mental definition), Omega earns her position as a remarkable spiritual presence and member of the squad. This owes plenty to Michelle Ang’s dynamic performance. The series treats Omega’s emotional needs with an ample amount of sincerity and she provides a mouthpiece for the moral fissures of the galaxy.
While The Bad Batch isn’t “adult” at the level of violence or cursing, it does have a more mature vibe than most other Star Wars animation. Elements of kid shows aren’t inherently bad. But Bad Batch can have lapses its identity when tossing Omega a few too easy wins as kid show cliches would. To its credit, The Bad Batch has been consistent with paving a trajectory for Omega to mature with the squad.
So far, the show takes easy ways out. A compelling behavioral brain chip situation is resolved in one episode. Most of the time the brothers don’t have real moral grappling over their mercenary missions. They default to the “right thing” but lack collective discussion. You can tell the show just wants to keep the brothers from coming off as morally grey. (“Rescue on Ryloth” dared to depict them as initially unsympathetic in a stranger’s point of view.)
Here’s a kicker that brings Star Wars edging toward an intimately depressing science-fiction premise. Omega, an unaltered clone who wasn’t granted growth acceleration, has watched her own guardians bred from the artificial wombs of Nala Se’s secret lab. We witnessed an older and white-bearded Rex and Gregor in Rebels (both likely technically in their literal 20s) still sturdy enough to fight in war. But the cartoon barely discussed their engineered reduced longevity. The Bad Batch and regs reaching the silver-haired stage of adulthood might be beyond the second season timeline. It’s still a question to live with. (And you know how Omega thinks about things that her brothers do not often consider.)
At a surface-level best, The Bad Batch has been a watchable look about clone soldiers, engineered for war from birth, escaping servitude and a found family trying to hold it together. But there is still room to achieve resonance.
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